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May 3, 2016

Cornell Dining Employees Concerned by Union’s Effect on Worker Motivation

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Cornell dining employees in its labor union raised concerns about ‘chronic worker problems’ and poor food quality in dining halls in advance of the triennial elections for the United Auto Workers today and the group’s contract renewal with the University in June.

The UAW, a union that protects employees in service and maintenance occupation at the University, will reach its contractual expiration on June 30 — an agreement held since 2012, according to their contract.

Dining hall employee and union member Zachary Winn said a “very unhealthy culture” has developed among union workers in the Cornell dining system, saying there is a “chronic worker problem” within the union.

“It’s impossible [for union members] to get fired … so, just being a bad employee isn’t enough,” Winn said.

This poor employee morale has profoundly impacted employees who work alongside those with chronic problem workers, according to Winn.

“Not only does it suck to have these people not do their jobs, but for somebody who does do their job — it makes it incredibly difficult,” he said.

Karen Brown, director of Campus Life Marketing and Communications, stressed the importance the department places on resolving employee issues amicably.

“Each personnel issue is taken very seriously, and we work to resolve each on an individual basis,” Brown said.

Molly Swertfager, central zone representative, said that, despite issues in employee incentives to work, “we need to start looking out for our members — all of our members, not just the people who get into trouble.”

“We’re required to protect everyone, we must protect against unjust punishment but it’s also an issue of when do you … start protecting the workers that have to deal with this chronic problem worker on a daily basis,” Swertfager said.

The University is employing non-union workers, such as students, to avoid the complexities of the union contract, according to Winn.

“They’re only getting paid $10 an hour and Cornell is lining their pockets with temp agencies just so they don’t have to [hire] any unions and pay them benefits and also risk hiring someone they can’t fire,” he said.

Mark Anbinder, web communications manager for Campus Life Marketing and Com­munications, said Cornell Dining hires temporary employees according to business demand.

“In dining, we use various forms of temporary labor including students, casual staff … and temp agency staff to supplement our regular workforce during peak business times — such as the lunch rush — or for special events, and to fill in for employee leaves and vacancies,” Anbinder said.

He added that employment is contingent on the workload of the eatery.

“Cornell Dining must also adapt to the business cycle in which we operate, a university environment that does not support all operations being open — or fully staffed — 12 months a year,” he said.

Brown also said Cornell Dining will increase meal plan costs for the next academic year — its first raise in three years.

“There are other expenses making up a meal swipe than just the actual cost of the food,” Brown said. “Preparing a wide variety of healthful cooked meals, cleaning up afterwards and employing staff, in addition to other costs, are factored in as well.”

In response to food quality at dining halls, Anbinder said the University is “proud of both the quality and variety of food that we serve.”

“I would say that we have compromised on neither — as indicated by the continued high marks we get each year in the Princeton Review and other independent ratings,” Anbinder said.